November 2017 and beyond
Dog, Melanie, Jacinda, Charles the cop and Blondie walked at a brisk pace from the graveyard. The day had turned cold, windy, sunny. Leaves and dry grasses and some twigs blew across the pavement of the parking lot. Big Eddie G. and I followed them.
Eddie asked Melanie if there was a bar nearby, she replied, “Yes, but this is not a good neighborhood." Then she surveyed the small crowd walking with her and laughed a little. It was good to see her smile again.
I commented, “Yeah, with this crowd I would not be too concerned...”
We walked to a tiny corner bar. A red brick building in what was at one-time Middletown’s little Italy. I remember as kids Juan and I used to come down here and get bread and Italian pastries. Sometimes we’d get in fights with the Italian kids, nothing major, just neighborhood brawls. Man, you could stand in Carmine’s Bakery and gain two pounds just inhaling.
The neighborhood has changed for the worst in the forty years since we left, since I left anyway. Juan and Melanie lived in a small house not far from the bar.
I hold the door as everyone paraded inside the place. It was early afternoon on a weekday. Middletown is a working-class city. A few local street kids, about six or seven, sat in the darker corners drinking shots and beers.
Large opaque windows let in some sunlight but no one on the outside could see in. Fitting for a bar in this part of town.
Looking around, sizing up the place, Eddie said, “Yeah, these little bitches don’t look like much of a challenge to me.” He said it not in a small voice. It was a declaration - we are here. Don’t challenge us. Eddie was like that.
Melanie said, “It’s such a shame, the change. The street has become so violent and so many drugs, heroin. It’s everywhere. I don’t want to live here without Juan.”
Jacinda touched her arm and said, “I want you to sell the house and come with me, mom. This town has grown too dark. I grew up here and I don’t know this place anymore. Daddy could keep the dogs at bay. One look from Daddy and these tough guys would run, even at 60 years old, but he’s gone now.”
With that comment four of the seven boys huddled in the corner walked up to Melanie and offered condolences. One called Juan ‘OG.’ She thanked them and shook their hands with genuine appreciation.
One of the street boys smiled at Jacinda. The look she gave him would level any man. They walked back to their corner booth, tail between their legs.
I turned to young Jacinda and smiled, “You can’t blame a guy for trying.”
Then I laughed out loud and said, “Yeah, Melanie, you should go with your daughter. She’s got her father’s blood in her veins. Ain’t no one going to fuck with you when she’s around.”
Eddie spins around on the stool and plants his elbows on the front of the long, dark bar behind him. The old woods of the surface stained by decades of spilled beers and glasses of whiskey and wine. The deep varnish finish long gone. All that remains are the stains, deep in the grain.
He scans the dark room, and begins speaking to no one in particular just the air around him, then he looks closely at the young studs in the corner.
Turning to me and looking straight into my eyes but in a voice loud enough for everyone in the bar to hear Big Eddie G begins: “I'm sixty years old, I'm living in Winter Haven, Florida, in an efficiency apartment, with a forty-two-year-old stripper. I know her love for me will last about a week longer than the money.”
“I flew back up here to bury Juan, then on to the Bronx to do a job, before I head back to the sunshine state.”
“I’m going to do the kind of job you think is beneath you now, Richie. You think those days only exist in your past. They are not, they do not. They are part of you, they will always be a part of you. You, me, the old guys, we are all the same.”
“Richie, you are trying to run from who you are, and have been trying to run for thirty years.”
“I just try to accept who I am. I'd tried to deny the truth about myself for too many years.”
“This is as good as I get, as good as you get. The days of redemption and forgiveness are a long time past.”
“Look at these kids, Italian, Irish, Black, Spanish, what the fuck, I even saw a Chinese kid in back there.”
“Times have changed, but they all are pulled in there by the same attraction that pulled us in.”
“Big money, a chance to be a tough guy, 'gangsters,' everybody on the street wants to be in until the shit gets real.”
“I guess the girls still get wet over that bullshit too, huh?”
“Saturday I’ll be in the city. Saturday night I’ll do what needs to be done.”
“Sunday morning, hungover and still stinking from the night before, I'll go up the street and sit in church with my family, what's left of my family.”
“I'll sit there next to guys praying for forgiveness for fucking the neighbor's wife, or skimming a hundred bucks off the petty cash drawer.”
“I'll sit there a watch them shake and squint their eyes and pray.”
“Then I'll look down and see the dirt and skin and blood still under my fingernails.”
“Everybody wants to be in, to be a tough guy, until you got to clean up the bloody mess and burn the rags.”
“There ain't no one looking out for you, this is your life, Richie, like it's mine.”
Eddie pauses to raise his shot glass at Blondie.
“Everything, friends, girlfriends, the money, this life, it's all temporary. You think that stripper is worried about me? She’s worried if I'll come back with enough cash to keep her fucking ass drunk for another six months.”
“The same holds true for you, the only friends you have are sitting right here in this bar and the one we just put in the ground. They are not and will never be the young ones, only us old fucking bastards, me and The Dog.”
“The rest of them, these stupid kids, the pretty girl, her fucking cop boyfriend…”
He pauses as he raises another shot to Charles.
“It’s all 'what have you done for me lately with them.”
“You and me, we may hate each other, but we've got each other. We've always had each other."
He spins back around, facing the bar, takes a long drink of his beer and says, "It's all fun and games then one day, it's not."
Charles and Blondie finish their drinks and get up to leave. The Dog has been uncharacteristically silent.
I have to speak. I raise a glass of Johnnie Walker Black. “As we mourn our friend, a husband, a father, my brother, I need to insist we honor his violence as well as his goodness, his humanity.”
“Juan was an enigma. A violent man, full of rage and ambition. Nothing and no one stood in his way.”
“When I first met him, we were boys, he would not swear, he said he was always around his mommy and little Juan and they should not hear foul language. He’d jam a machete right through a motherfucker, all the way through, till the blade passed out the other guy’s back, as if it was extruded through his spine, but he’d not swear in front of Mommy or the boy. My friend Juan; he had his own set of rules…”
“He was my only friend.”
“Juan was a mix of all the elements of our humanity, the beautiful and the ugly. I’m grateful to Melanie and Jacinda for bringing him back from the edge where we lived as boys. I’m grateful you two took away the rage and provided him a place of kindness and goodness to grow. I wish I could have known him in these later years. The few weeks we’ve spent together at the end were precious to me. Juan harbored a deep fear of the next step. Another thing we share. I’m not sure if these weeks we spent together talking, reliving, rehashing helped to allay that fear or help it rise to the surface. I hope it helped him. It helped me some. Juan ventured out to the very edges of where humanity dares to go and somehow found his way back from that edge.”
I glanced at his wife and daughter. They smiled and wept. I raised my glass to them, “You two were the reason he found his way home.”
“Thank you, Melanie, for tracking me down and giving me my brother back.”
I sat down on my barstool and ordered another shot and beer.
Dog finally spoke, “Seeing your home in Newburgh, Richie. Seeing these thugs in here, what we saw out on the street. Remember that last day in the Miami train station? Remember sitting on the bench with me? Remember when I said we paved the road? This world unfolding before our eyes, this ugly and uncertain world; we helped create this. In a small way, in huge ways, this was our work.”
“The drugs; I was talking to a guy yesterday who’d been in jail five times. He was panhandling. The cops on that street looked like soldiers. I was talking to a cop the other day. From what he told me even that armor and the guns and armored cars isn't nearly enough. These streets are vicious and deadly. Everyone has heavy artillery. Every day there is more and more. A war being fought right outside your apartment window, this window, every window. Those in power don’t even need to turn the wrenches anymore. They sit back and collect the money.”
“This is all on us. I own this, you own this, Richie, Jesse, whoever the fuck you are. We did this.”
“We started this train rolling, now it’s running out of control.”
“This is what I need to confess. I knew exactly what I was building. I didn’t think I’d live to see it come to fruition. Here it is, we did this...”
“Confess, what the fuck do you mean confess?” I yelled back. “What and to who the fuck are you confessing?”
“Nothing, not now, forget I said anything.” Dog went back deep into his drink. Staring into the glass on the bar top.
Melanie came up to me and hugged me and said goodbye. “Please be careful, Richie. I do not like these stories I’m hearing.”
Jacinda gave me a hug.
They follow Charles and Blondie out of the bar.
Eddie, still seeming pretty sober and Dog completely wasted, finish their drinks. Eddie says to me, “I’ll drop you in Newburgh and Dog in Jersey, you got bodies to burn, right, White Dog? Then I’m off to the Bronx. I’ve got work I’ve got to do!”
The drive back to Newburgh was marginally interesting. Eddie was mildly drunk. Dog was silent. Staring out the window. I sat in the back and smoked and sucked on a quart of cheap scotch I took from the bar.
The boys dropped me at my apartment, then some quick goodbyes. It had been almost three days together. We’d had enough of each other.
I walked in and threw my keys on the table where my old mail sat in a pile. My answering machine flashed ten missed calls and six messages. I had no desire to hear them. I sat down on my couch and looked at the river and the mountain. I took short sips off the bottle of Clan MacGregor.
The mountain looked dead and gray, the brilliant colors of another Hudson Valley autumn had faded into memory.
I sat there and thought about Juan. The past fifty years.
The sun set to the west behind me, the sky grew dark. I turned on no lights in my living room. The cool crisp night air outside revealed a million stars. After a time, the sky to the east began to glow and brighten. The years passed into foggy memories. Some good, some very, very bad. Finally, as the morning light began to fill my living room and I fell asleep.
I woke to the phone ringing. I’d fallen asleep in my suit. I needed coffee. I smelled like stale cigarettes and booze and sweat.
Looking at the incoming caller ID It was the Blonde. I had no reason that could come to mind why I’d need to speak to her.
In the shower, trying to revive myself, the phone was ringing again - ”WHAT THE FUCK!”
I get out and grab a towel. I’m tired, I’m hungover. The phone starts again. It’s another number. I grab the phone and listen, “Richie, Jesse, whoever, it’s Charles. We need to meet today. It’s very important.”
“Charles, we said goodbye yesterday. Why are you and the Blonde breaking my balls?”
“Richie, NY State now has an interest in you. I’m acting as a cop now, but I promised Blondie I’d talk to you first. We need to meet, today.”
“Where,” I half laugh, “The State Police Barracks? Should I bring my own cuffs?”
“Richie, this is serious. Meet me for coffee now. The next time we talk will be in an official capacity. I don’t think you understand the gravity of this situation.”
I find myself believing Charles, or needing to believe him. I’m getting the sense that my situation has rapidly changed. I need to find out what that they know. We agree to meet in an hour. A small park between Middletown and Newburgh. I get dressed and head off to meet him.
I drive the life-sucking champagne-colored Toyota onto the park grounds. I turn and drive onto the crushed stone path. I see Charles sitting alone at a solitary picnic table next to a softball field. Alone under an ugly gray, cold November sky. A heavy wind blows recently fallen leaves in dust devils that whip across the dry grasses.
I get out of the car, walk to the bench and sit down opposite Charles. He hands me a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee from a bag.
He immediately begins to speak. “You and me, we are OK regarding our blonde friend?”
“I told you, Charles, she deserves a good relationship with a good person. You seem to be a good person.”
He continues, “I’ve heard her when she’s speaking to the Feds. She knows nothing. She thinks you are some old school drug runner. She hasn’t a clue, really. That’s a good thing for all concerned. I know they are very interested in what you know. They will prosecute you as leverage, but they are only concerned with who and what you know.
“We go way back, Richie. NY State is involved in a parallel investigation now. I’m here officially to try to get you to cooperate. To talk, starting with me. I can’t help you much, but I’ll do what I can. I can promise you that.”
“Someone close to you has started talking. Telling the feds everything going way back, way back to the seventies. Some of this got the attention of NY State department of taxation and finance.”
I pull the collar of my jacket up to cover my neck, I light a cigarette, I sip my coffee, “This is a good place to meet, to speak candidly. That is unless you are wearing a wire. Don’t matter really. What I’ve got to say should be public record, I’d like it to be anyway.”
“I’ve been collecting information, photos, documents, fingerprints, contracts, signatures. You name it. I’ve been collecting this information since the eighties. I started with Polaroids and notes and letters stashed in boxes.”
“There is a war going on Charles, it continues today. Hell, you are a part of it, a big part and you are not even aware of it. Me, Pearlman, some of the old guys like Vinny, now dead. We were in at the very beginning of some spooky shit that changed the way business is done here in the US. We changed it forever and it happened so subtly that no one even noticed”.
“I know exactly what they want from me. I need you to tell them this: I have my information safely stored. It’s stored in roughly five locations now, Ive had copies made. A couple in Canada, a couple in the US and one in Mexico.”
“I have a complex network or journalists and newspaper people and people I’d consider patriots. A small tight group. The group members have changed over the years. These people, men, and women, they want to write the story. When I decide to release my information, if I’m still alive, one of these guys will write it. When they do the shit will hit the fan. Then they will be under as much pressure as I’m sure I am now.”
“No one knows the whole story but me, and maybe a few others. I’m not sure now who is alive or dead. Anyway, if and when it happens to me, and it will, someone will take me out, my boxes of information will be released. The NY Times, Boston Globe, Washington Post, London Daily Mail will have copies.”
“I’m sad, deeply saddened by Juan’s passing, but in a way relieved. Juan knew things. A lot of the same things I knew. We worked this war from different angles, sometimes different sides, but always collecting and sharing information. I have his stores now too. He told me where they were and who to contact. We set that up in these last weeks in the hospital. You cops are not dealing with one guy, you are dealing with quite an elaborate network of journalists – and they are motivated only by the need to expose the truth. Silencing me will not work as you expect!”
“I know the feds want to find out who I am, who I know and what I know. I’m also aware that if I talk to them I’m them a liability that needs to be removed.”
“The number of us left is rapidly dwindling.”
Charles interrupted, “Someone is talking now. I’m not sure. Eddie, Pearlman?”
I laughed out loud, “You think Eddie G. is talking to the feds? That is fucking hilarious. I trust Eddie more than I trust myself. It ain’t Eddie. Pearlman, he’s fucking nuts. Possible, but why? He’s as dirty as me. As dirty as anyone. A confession would be a life sentence, especially at our ages, and once he’s on the inside of a prison - a death sentence.”
Charles bums a cigarette and lights it. The wind challenges his Zippo lighter. He snaps the lid closed with that distinct sound. “Maybe we could get you in a program. New identity in a new place, maybe the southwest. It’s warm there. Nice I hear...”
“You remember Jimmy the barber?” Charles asks.
I’m shocked that Charles or anyone could draw a line back that far between Jimmy and me. That was really only that one meeting, where he nearly choked me. Jimmy set me up on the docks, but worked mainly way deep in the background. “Yeah, I remember Jimmy very well!” I stare back at Charles.
“We set him up with a nice place, still in the ‘salon’ business, New Mexico. He’s got enough money and coke and Viagra that he’ll be fucking the young boys out there until he drops dead. We could do the same for you!”
“I’m not into young boys, Charles, or any boys for that matter, I guess Blondie doesn’t talk about me when you are fucking her…”
Charles almost smiles, “Don’t be an asshole, you know what I mean. We can set you up. A new life, new identity.”
I grab his free hand, “Listen to me, Charles. I’ve lived the past forty years knowing what I know. Never talking to anyone, fed, or state. I’m not going to take a deal with the feds and now. I’m on my third identity. Richie O’Malley, Jesse Turner and since the mid-eighties Jesse Kelly. That’s enough. That’s more than enough for me. When I’m dead or in prison my truth will come out. It will bury a lot of people who think they are in control now.”
“You go and tell NY State the Federales that there are going to have to come and arrest me and when they do I think it may be time to let my secrets go public. I’ll never confess, but I’ll freely share my secrets and take a lot of people down with me. Politicians, business execs, bankers. A lot of people will go down with me. I’ll never rat on the guys who did the dirt, but I’ll expose those gutless motherfuckers who drive this shit without a thought.”
It is starting to rain. A cold wind-driven rain. Charles stands, “They will kill you. You know that. I know this is not some dead case file investigation. I know this is big. They will kill you. First, they will harass you to the point you’ll wish they’d kill you.”
“And my story will be on the front page of every paper in the country and half of Europe, Charles.” I finish the last gulp from the cup, “Thanks for the coffee and the chat, Charles.”
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish